By promoting IT differently, Central Technology (CT Ltd) have persuaded employees from all different backgrounds, ages and ethnicities that tech could be the industry for them. Jill Theobald looks at how transferable skills are being used to boost employees and employer alike at CT – and beyond

“You don’t need to be technical to have a successful career in the technology industry.”

Not the first words you might expect to hear if you’re considering a career move into new fields.

Time was, you studied at school, got your qualification and went into the job/industry you were qualified for. End of.

But CT managing director Ian Snow makes a convincing case for transferable skills, as indeed do many of the region’s businesses. And for good reason, it turns out.

“Recruitment is high on our agenda,” says Ian. “We are winning some great new business and need to ensure we have the right team in place to meet the demands of all our customers. But to attract the right people, we need to change the way we talk about technology.

“The tech industry impacts everyone.  It now sits behind almost every other industry that there is. Tech companies are our biggest hospitality and travel companies (think Uber and AirBnB), retailers (Amazon), communications companies (Apple) and Information companies (Google). Working in the industry is incredibly exciting and rewarding, but many, wrongly, feel they do not have the right skills to be part of that revolution.

“But whilst some roles are IT specific, we need a full range of personalities and skillsets, whether it be technical superstars, sales leaders, HR staff or digital marketing gurus.

“We look for great people with transferable skills such as communication, leadership and problem-solving.  We then put in place training platforms to help them grow and learn new skills as their jobs evolve. We believe this will help us build and retain the best teams and offer our customers the best possible service.

“By promoting the technology industry in a different light and persuading people that IT could be the right place for them whatever their age, gender or ethnicity, there is a real opportunity to attract a more diverse pool of people to the table.  And with this comes a well-balanced workplace.

“Studies have proven that it increases creativity, reduces employee turnover, and importantly boosts a company’s reputation and brand as it makes the company more personable and human! Having employees with varied viewpoints and life experiences helps everyone to broaden horizons. It guards against narrow-mindedness and importantly helps us as a business to be more competitive attracting talent that might otherwise go elsewhere.”

Guest blogger for CT Emma Sinden is co-founder and director of 10 Digital Ladies community. She said: ‘Our community includes writers, designers, teachers, project managers, entrepreneurs, communicators, developers, analysts, business leaders, CTOs, CIOs, CEOs, product managers and customer experience specialists – to name but a few!

“Many did not start out in tech but have retrained or refocused and are now building second or third careers. There is huge diversity and I don’t think there is an industry that offers so much in terms of the opportunities to learn and grow or one in which there is room for so many different skills and talents.”

Ben Atha, founder of The Developer Academy, agrees.

“When we’re talking about skills gaps, and digital skills gaps in particular, it’s hugely important that employers are looking at training and upskilling their current workforce. Employing a developer can be quite expensive. If employers look at people with different skills sets in different departments, say for example in admin or tele-sales, they can train and upskill those people and have them move departments, a much more cost-effective way of plugging those gaps.

“Equally it’s a great way for employees to grow and develop, too. They’ll see your company as a better place to work – they are not going to stagnate in the same position, are being encouraged to progress and are more likely to stay with you longer-term rather than seeking new opportunities elsewhere.

“With The Developer Academy I decided to find a way of retraining people wanting tech skills who already live and work in Sheffield around their jobs. The current choices are online courses which have very high drop-out rates or a full-time boot-camp which means quitting your job, costs £6,000, lasts 12 weeks and the only coding you’ll learn is JavaScript.

“Our programme is an affordable monthly fee means people can study online in the evenings or weekend. We also offer group sessions in the evenings and weekends too which they can attend as many or as few of as suits.

“We talk to local employers to find out the skills they need and they tell us creative thinking, problem-solving, effective communication and so on. We encourage people to bring their existing skills and transfer them into digital and coding skills. We understand what the market wants and help fill this employment gap.”

As well as a Sheffield City Council programme, and women only and autism-friendly courses, The Developer Academy is also working with the Sheffield City Region Skills Bank, enabling SCR employers to claim up to 70 per cent towards the cost of training.

And it’s not just the tech industry where transferable skills are being put to good use to the benefit of both employer and employee. Part of Jenx Ltd, Jiraffe specialises in sourcing and providing postural care equipment and support to children and adults with special needs.

Director Holly Jenkins is full of examples of staff whose transferable skills have been put to better use across the company.

“Maddie joined us as a team leader in our customer service team in 2014 having worked in a general office role for Sheffield City Council. She’d done some really good work for us and then came to us after seeing an increase in customers talking about purchasing requirements and tenders which hadn’t been an important part of the business until then. She put forward a case for an account manager role in that area and took the way we were working to a different level. Today she is our national commissioning manager and has been fantastic.

“Alex joined us from school aged 17 and worked her way up in customer service before taking a secondment to the sales team. She enjoyed it so much she has stayed in sales and developed that, too – because of her knowledge she had in terms of our culture she identified that many businesses have an office based sales team and one that’s out on the road who are separate and has brought both closer together so we are working as one big team now.”

Transferring skills isn’t a new trend at Jiraffe either – the workforce has been flexible for years, with some staff skills transferred from day one.

“Joe actually applied for a customer service role and came for an interview, but we ended up offering him a job in the service team in product repairs. He developed his skills while he was out servicing. He said it had helped him understand customers’ needs and helped him answer more complex questions. That knowledge improved our sales model, so he then applied for a sales role and has been a great addition to the sales team.

“We really invest in our employees. One of our HR team joined as a junior in customer service and has worked up while a manufacturing facility supervisor started as an apprentice.”

With long-service like that, staff progression is obviously key to retention – as well as recruitment.

Added Holly: “We get asked about staff progression by a lot of job applicants, increasingly younger people, and it is great to be able to give them examples like Maddie, Alex and Joe.

“Staff training and development is so important to us as a business – I don’t understand why every company doesn’t do the same.”